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Introduction
1936
11 June to 4 July

The Surrealist Exhibition, London

"The genius of these painters will eventually appear to rest not so much on the always relative novelty of their subject matter, as on the more or less great initiative they display when it is a question of making use of this subject matter… So it is that the whole technical effort of surrealism, from its origins until today, has consisted in multiplying the ways of reaching the most profound levels of the mental personality." Andre Breton. From the Preface to the Catalogue of the International Surrealist Exhibition, London, 1936, translated by David Gascoyne.

The International Surrealist Exhibition, held from 11 June to 4 July 1936, at the New Burlington Galleries in London, introduced Surrealism to Britain.

The exhibition was organised by Humphrey Jennings, Henry Moore, Herbert Read, Roland Penrose, David Gascoyne, Diana Brinton Lee, Hugh Sykes Davies, Rupert Lee, Paul Nash, E.L.T Mesens, Andre Bréton, Paul Éluard, Man Ray and Georges Hugnet.

Including work by Dalí, Miró and Ernst alongside primitive art, the show was the first of its kind in Britain, attracting international critical acclaim and inciting both the interest and outrage of the sceptical British public. In terms of attendance figures, the exhibition was an outstanding success. The crowds were so large on opening day that traffic in Piccadilly was brought to a standstill. During its three-week run, over thirty thousand people visited the exhibition. Throughout the exhibition, the show's organisers delivered lectures on the theories and intentions of surrealism to large audiences. Salvador Dali gave the most famous of these lectures on the 1st July. The eminent surrealist caused a furore when he stepped on stage and began to deliver his lecture in a full deep-sea diving suit. Only minutes later, a shocked audience watched with a mixture of horror and disbelief, as he began to suffocate and had to be prised out of the helmet with pliers.

Lara Thompson

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L-R top: Rupert Lee, Ruthven Todd, Salvador Dali, Paul Eluard, Roland Penrose, Herbert Read, E.L.T Mesens, George Reavey and Hugh Sykes-Williams. Bottom: Diana Brinton-Lee, Nusch Eluard, Eileen Agar, Sheila Legg and an unknown friend of Dali.

Courtesy of The Picture Library, The Royal Academy
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